We’re still in the midst of Battcon, and while the focus is on the inevitable writerly pursuits– writing, drinking, bitching about the successes of others, drinking, hanging around the pool, complaining that my career is over, drinking, watching TV and drinking, with the occasional bout of writing and self-hatred– it’s important that it all be done to the correct soundtrack, because, you know, generation that grew up on The Breakfast Club.
Queen is the first band for whom I ever felt a fannish attraction, predating even my all-encompassing and lifelong Madness love. Outside of Bohemian Rhapsody (the only song to realistically challenge Stairway to Heaven for the unofficial Greatest Song Ever Recorded title), their catalogue up until the demise of their hypnotic genius front man Freddie Mercury is a wall to wall layer of brilliance and bona fide superhits. I have owned their Greatest Hits Volume 1 album in at least 4 different media, and worn it through in each one.
Between Mercury’s voice, guitar god Brian May’s soaring riffs, and the joyous flip-flopping between whimsical Victoriana and tear-your-balls-off rock and roll, they are unforgettable, and simply impossible to recreate. What we can do, however, is take a moment to step outside the long list of radio staples we still teach our children (boom boom, CLAP, boom boom CLAP…) and highlight five works that haven’t stuck in the general consciousness, despite their brilliance.
Here, then, are five of my favourites from outside the long, long list of giant monster hits we all know and sing regularly wherever there’s an outdoor event with a taped soundtrack (boom boom, CLAP, boom boom CLAP…)……
5 for FRIDAY: KILLER QUEEN
1. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy
The height of their fancy for pre-war whimsy and the sort of Victorian/Edwardian England that probably didn’t really exist outside of Chesterton novels and a guaranteed income from owning ancestral lands. But, honestly, has a stadium-filling band of rock gods ever sounded like this? I mean, ever?
2. Seven Seas of Rhye
The nascent rock gods in action: an early example of the epic themes and brutal riffs that the band was capable of putting together when the mood took them, and a guaranteed dance floor scorcher. One of the earliest tracks of their recording career– a shorter, lyric-free version appears on their debut album– all the pieces of the Queen puzzle are on display, here: the flipping between whimsy and rock, May’s soaring guitar, Mercury’s voice, the four-part vocal harmonies. And it rocks. Oh, how it rocks.
Recorded in the full knowledge that Mercury was dying, this title track of the last ‘real’ Queen album is a monster epic, touching every aspect of their musical oeuvre and covering the inevitable degradation of Mercury’s top-end with some beautifully placed guitar work. It’s an obvious call-back to Bohemian Rhapsody in its scale and vision, but it’s a work of brilliance in its own right, and the video clip is nothing short of a masterpiece. One of my very favourite tracks.
4. Gimme the Prize
Ah, Highlander. It was the movie of my teen years. Not for me the self-obsessed navel maunderings of John Hughes or the psychotic perambulations of Ferris Beuller. That came later. My state of being was perfectly encapsulated by immortal Scotsmen played by Frenchmen, wielding Japanese swords at Russians played by Americans, while Egyptians played by Scotsmen swanned about cracking wise in a New York made mostly in England. Plus rock and roll. Did I mention sword fights?
So much of my literary taste, style, and obsessions are encapsulated in this movie. I have a soft spot for it that will probably never fade, despite the sure and certain knowledge from recent viewings that it really, really hasn’t aged well.
One thing that hasn’t suffered the ravages of time, however, is the soundtrack. Queen are in full rock mode here, with only one obligatory ballad to soften proceedings. Oddly, after the success of their previous soundtrack album (Flash Gordon), no official soundtrack was released– the album A Kind of Magic contained 6 songs from the movie as well as one from the rubbish Merkahflag warmonger movie Iron Eagle and a couple of album tracks.
None of which stops this track from rocking out, and featuring some of May’s best, most jagged work. It’s a playlist staple.
5. I Want it All
The last remaining favourite track from an album that was, at the time, one of my favourites bar none. I still have a soft spot for The Miracle, although many of the songs have not weathered the intervening nearly thirty years well, but this one is classic Queen: the harmonies, the guitar, the voice. With only Innuendo to follow, they were never this good at being this hard again.
With 19 albums and 166 songs on my playlist, trying to pinpoint only 5 songs as absolute favourites is a short road to lunacy. Which others could I have added? What are yours?